200 new jobs will be created in community
By David Lias
The term “offshore” has gained increasing popularity in recent years to describe everything from bank accounts to call centers that have fled the United States for other countries.
Eagle Creek Software Services hopes to popularize a new term – “onshore.”
That’s how the business describes its operation in the Midwest that will soon be expanding significantly in South Dakota, particularly in Vermillion.
“It’s our goal to bring 1,000 jobs to the state of South Dakota in the next three to five years, which will make South Dakota a major player in the IT outsourcing market,” said Ken Behrendt, president of Eagle Creek Software Services, at a Wednesday afternoon press conference on the University of South Dakota campus. “A new $10 million technology center is to be built in Vermillion that will house 200 of those jobs. There’s a reason we are doing this. Simply put, American has an IT (information technology) problem, and it’s time for America to solve that problem.”
Officials from USD, the city of Vermillion, and state government, including Gov. Dennis Daugaard, joined Behrendt as he announced a unique partnership involving the state, the university and his private company to generate new jobs.
Those jobs will boast pay higher than the state’s average wages, and the supply of employees will come from USD and its recently formed Information Technology Consultant Academy.
“We’ve been working with this company for a long time,” said Steve Howe, executive director of the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company in an interview before Wednesday’s press conference. “This company provides software outsourced services for other companies.
“These jobs that are to be created will require a college education. The pay is well above average – far greater than the average salary in Vermillion,” Howe said. “The wonderful thing about this employer is that they hire employees directly out of college, unlike most IT (Information Technology) companies that typically require years of service.”
Eagle Creek Software Services, with headquarters in Eden Prairie, MN, was founded in 1999. The company has project centers in Valley City, ND, and Pierre, and has targeted Vermillion as the site of a fourth location.
“We’re delighted today to announce a unique partnership between South Dakota’s flagship university and an outstanding private company that will bring technology support jobs back to American soil,” said USD President James W. Abbott. “Eagle Creek is the largest onshore services company in the United States. For the University of South Dakota, this means a great opportunity to partner our great liberal arts institution with an impressive private company supporting the best of American private enterprise.”
“The addition of 200 jobs in the community the size of Vermillion is significant,” said Pat Costello, commissioner, Governor’s Office of Economic Development. “I couldn’t be more pleased that Eagle Creek Software Services has decided to grow their footprint in South Dakota.”
Eagle Creek provides consulting and technical expertise, focusing on customer relationship management, information management, and applications development.
The company’s mission is to help its clients increase quality and efficiencies while managing price and risk in software development, deployment, and support.
Gov. Daugaard noted that Vermillion came to mind shortly after state economic officials began formal discussions with Behrendt.
“When you are in the business of attracting industry to your state, you find out what they want, and try to fill those needs,” the governor said.
Daugaard noted that after he and other state officials had initial conversations with Behrendt about his desire to expand Eagle Creek in South Dakota, it became apparent that Vermillion could fill the company’s needs.
“Vermillion has lots of high caliber students at the University of South Dakota … and if there is opportunity for them right here in Vermillion, how much better will it be for many of those students who can seize that opportunity? This is going to be something quite unique,” he said.
Jobs returning “onshore”
Behrendt noted that for the past couple decades, the United States has been shipping IT services offshore.
“Initially this was done for cost, but corporate America today has recognized that there are underlying issues,” he said. “Since 2009, we have seen these services begin to come back to the United States. That’s because of the U.S.-based employees, who have a better understanding of the workforce, the requirements, and a more knowledgeable understanding of U.S. business practices.
Behrendt said the U.S. has not been able to keep up with the demand for IT services. The creation of the Information Technology Consultant Academy on the USD campus will help meet that demand, he said.
“We will be better able to prepare a skilled workforce that will stand the challenges of the future,” he said. “I often get asked ‘Why South Dakota?’ It truly is the best place in the United States to build a technology center. South Dakota is a state that understands business and wants to have a partnership with the business community. In addition to a workforce that ‘s unparalleled, it’s cities like Vermillion that will make this happen. It’s the heartbeat of the technology services going forward.”
“The types of jobs Eagle Creek will be bringing are referred to as IT programming and consulting services. They don’t do traditional programming like writing code from scratch,” Howe said. “Most of the companies that they are dealing with are buying off-the-shelf software. They are adapting that software to their customers’ needs.”
It is envisioned that local employees of Eagle Creek will go to work in a new building in Vermillion, constructed by the Vermillion Chamber of Commerce and Development Company and leased to the firm.
“The economic impact of this is impressive, and they are initially looking at probably a 30,000 square foot building,” Howe said.
The building may be constructed in the River Bend Business Park, located near Vermillion’s WalMart.
“We have some hoops that we need to jump through to get the financing and other necessary things, but once that’s complete, we’ll hopefully be turning dirt this summer for the building,” he said.
Eagle Creek’s services are used by a variety of companies, from healthcare, insurance and financial services, to communications, technology, and life sciences.
“What makes Vermillion and this company work so well together is the relationship with USD that we’ve developed,” Howe said. “This is all part of a very in-depth, collaborative partnership involving the company, the community, the university, the Board of Regents, and the Governor’s Office of Economic Development.”
A key component is the Information Technology Consultant Academy, located on the USD campus.
“We created a training program within the university systems that will create a pipeline feeder of the employees that have these base skill sets when they graduate,” Howe said.
Those skilled employees, he said, will significantly reduce the training time and costs usually associated with securing new employees for the firm. Those who complete the academy’s coursework will be workforce ready wherever they seek employment.
Abbott noted that university students will be given the opportunity to begin their careers in Information Technology in Vermillion, with an internship and first job at the information center the city of Vermillion plans to build for Eagle Creek.
“The challenges of today’s job market call for new skills and approaches. Our mission as a university should be to prepare students to succeed in an increasingly high-tech workforce,” he said. “We applaud and are proud to partner with Eagle Creek on this innovative project. The Information Technology Consultant Academy will put students on a career path for success.”
“The training and certain coursework that is made available (through the academy) is not just for this company,” Howe said. “That’s the beauty of it. The skill sets that people will learn at this academy, if they don’t go to work for Eagle Creek, are very marketable anywhere else in the state. These are needed skill sets.”
“This is a very exciting project. We’re so thrilled to be involved,” said Laurie J. Becvar, senior associate provost and graduate school dean at USD. “The university became involved because they wanted that partnership between higher education and business … in helping to create a workforce for the future.
“We started talking about ideas,” she said, “and that’s when we forged the Information Technology Consultant Academy. It’s really an innovative way to grow our own workforce for South Dakota and specifically for this company.”
The Information Technology Consultant Academy integrates four undergraduate courses with an internship, which will provide participants a unique credential entering an IT-related profession.
Enrollees in the academy will take four undergraduate courses – two in computer sciences and two in business – to earn an undergrad certificate and gain 12 credit hours.
“With those four courses for the undergrad certificate, the tuition and fees are paid fully,” Becvar said. “That is a huge benefit, of course, to the students, because the students could use those 12 credit hours toward their baccalaureate program.”
Participants must also complete a paid internship, and then interview for employment which may lead to employment with Eagle Creek.
Those who seek employment at Eagle Creek may have the opportunity to pursue a sponsored graduate degree, including a master of business administration or master of science in administration, both customized for Eagle Creek.
A third option will be a master of science in computer science.
“Having no costs to the students is a wonderful thing,” Howe said. “The costs of the program are going to be supplemented between the company, the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, and our community, with Vermillion Now! and other things of that nature.”
The institute’s courses will be available to prospective students, he said, via traditional delivery methods offered by the Board of Regents.
One class is already underway, and the university has begun recruiting people for the second class.
“It’s going to take a few years before we get a stable pipeline, but we think it’s going to be a good process,” Howe said. “You don’t have to be an IT graduate to be in this program. You’re not required to have an IT degree; you just have to show an aptitude for it, and they (the institute and Eagle Creek) will train you in the rest. It opens it up to anyone; it is not just dependent on one degree program at the university to supply this workforce.”
“Eagle Creek Software Services is putting South Dakota on the map as a hub in the global knowledge economy,” Costello said “Having the largest U.S.-based onshore software services company speaks to both South Dakota’s business environment and skilled workforce.”
“I think this is one of those types of companies and types of arrangements that have the real ability to change what Vermillion is,” Howe said, noting that young people attending USD will have greater reason to settle in Vermillion to work and raise a family. “
“There’s a lot to be excited about, for the city of Vermillion, for the University of South Dakota and for the state of South Dakota,” Behrendt said. “We’re very excited about what the next years are going to bring us.”
The governor said the state often provides funding to industries that locate in South Dakota to help them train their staffs.
“We are providing some training dollars in the more conventional sense to Eagle Creek, but one of the things that’s quite unique is those training dollars will, in part, be delivered through tuition and fees paid to the University of South Dakota for students who want to take the software classes,” Daugaard said. “It will enable them to have the skills that are needed by companies like Eagle Creek, and are specifically tailored for Eagle Creek.
“We’re not only helping Eagle Creek,” the governor said. “We’re using those economic development dollars to help the University of South Dakota and the students who come here.”